In 2004, Arjun Atwal became the first Indian born player to earn a PGA Tour card. Atwal received tremendous accolades when he defeated Webb Simpson in a playoff at the 2008 Chattanooga Classic on the Nationwide Tour (currently web.com tour). In 2010 he went on to become the first Indian born player to win an event on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
One of the flag bearers of Indian golf, Arjun has won three times on the European Tour and five times on the Asian tour including the 2014 Dubai Open. The 2003 Asian Order of Merit Winner is one of few Indian golfers to have spent a majority of his career sharpening his skills in the U.S.A. Golf Digest India caught up with Arjun on the phone from Florida to find out the latest from him.
GDI: When did you move to Orlando and how are you liking it there?
I moved to Orlando at the end of 2003. I had won the Asian money list that year so decided to go to the Nationwide Tour Q-School and then during the second stage I moved to Orlando. It’s absolutely perfect here as far as golf is concerned.
GDI: You have a knack of winning when you get in contention – what is your secret?
I think I feel comfortable whenever I am in that position. A lot of players get nervous when they see that they have a chance of winning. I am not afraid of winning. I have prepared myself for that for a long time. We golfers have a very low winning percentage and don’t get to be in that winning position very often. So when I actually do get that opportunity, I don’t let anything get in my way.
GDI: You played a lot in Asia in 2016. Is it tough doing all that travel?
Yes. I am now 43. It was much easier to do when I was in my 20’s or 30’s. Over the years I have picked up some injuries that converted into chronic ones. Now I ensure that I travel for about three to four tournaments in a row. At my age it takes three or four days to recover from jet lag which is hard on the body. But yes still trying to push hard and still trying to play good golf.
GDI: Do you also play the Web.com Tour?
No. I get a few starts on PGA Tour with my conditional card having been a past winner and am happy with that for now. I played seven tournaments last year and hope to play about six to seven tournaments this year including the Wyndham Championship.
GDI: How do you stay fit and try to keep up with the youngsters off the tee?
I maintain a decent level of fitness and work on my core. I try to keep myself injury free and avoid hardcore training. I am focusing on keeping my back supple and if I do pick up some strains I try and remain strong and keep going. Recently, I started practicing yoga and try to keep my body flexible rather than focus too much on muscle strength. I have given up on keeping up with youngster as I am not getting any younger myself. My wedge play has never been better and my putting continues to be solid. I play to my strengths now.
GDI: How do you see your next 5 – 10 years and what are you goals?
I definitely would like to win again on the PGA tour and for that I need to stay healthy and fit. That’s my goal for the next couple of years.
GDI: Do you have a regular caddy in Asia and USA? How important is a regular caddy at that level?
I think it depends on individual. Personally I am fine without fix caddies. Some players need that familiarity and mental reassurance. There are routine things that their caddies do for them. I am okay with whoever just picks my bag and tells me yardages. Since I have a conditional PGA Tour card my caddie still picks up other bags when I am not competing. In Asia- Surya caddies for me and he was at the Indian Open 2016 as well. Otherwise in India, Ali Jaan is my regular caddy.
GDI: Do you still practice occasionally with Tiger? How is he recovering?
Tiger moved to Jupiter Island a few years ago so we get to play about once or twice a year together now. He is doing better but not yet a 100 % fit. He is being wise by not rushing into coming back. It is essential that he takes his time and returns when he is ready.
GDI: The IAPGA (Indo-American Professional Golf Association) is a new initiative to help Indian pros get to the PGA Tour. Your thoughts?
Every Indian professional golfer should have this goal. The PGA Tour has the best players in the world and is the best tour in the world. It is the Holy Grail of golf. Like any other job wouldn’t you want to perform amongst the best in the world? That’s the league that everyone should aspire to reach.
GDI: Your thoughts on Anirban Lahiri on the PGA Tour and your advice to him?
Anirban is a youngster with a mature head on his shoulders. I don’t think much advice is needed but have told him that he can call me anytime. He is doing well for himself and will continue to do so. He has got the right attitude. I wish him the very best.
GDI: What needs to be done in India for us to churn out more champion golfers at the world stage?
The most important aspect that requires a lot of attention is infrastructure. The current setup for juniors, amateurs & even professionals is just poor to say the least. I think the government has to get involved on a big scale as Indian players over the years have shown enough merit to deserve the right kind of infrastructure and practice facilities.
Currently, there are few private Indian companies who are doing a great job out of their own passion and love for the sport. Naturally, any sportsperson would need world class facilities to compete at the international level. If you look at Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, myself, Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chowrasia– we all have managed to make a living out of golf on our expense and I personally believe that if government intervenes in the right way golf can be the next big sport to come out of the country.
GDI: What is your advice for youngsters and those aspiring for a pro career?
Just stay focused and keep pushing yourself. Try to get better with each passing day.
GDI: In what way would you contribute to develop golf in India?
I definitely want to help underprivileged kids who can’t afford to be introduced to the game. There is tremendous talent which is untapped and I really want them to have an opportunity to experience the game. Shubham Jaglan is a fine example coming out of rural India and there are many more like him out there. Government support will go a long way in making this happen sustainably.